Hong Kong protesters burn LeBron James jersey in street after his China comments

Hours after LeBron James described Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey as “not educated” and “misinformed,” the Los Angeles Lakers forward’s jersey was burning in the streets of Hong Kong.

James made his first public comments Monday on the international controversy that has engulfed the NBA and garnered the attention of government officials from China to the United States.

He chastised Morey, claiming that “so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but physically, emotionally, spiritually” for his tweet supporting pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters in their conflict with an oppressive communist regime in China.

Protesters target James after Morey comments

Protesters in Hong Kong on Tuesday shot basketballs off an image of James’ face attached to a backboard and lit a replica of his jersey on fire. They also held signs of support, thanking Morey for speaking out.

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Peaceful protests turn violent in Hong Kong
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Peaceful protests turn violent in Hong Kong
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JUNE 12: A Protester throws back the tear gas during a protest against a proposed extradition law on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JUNE 12: A group of riot police push the crowd back during a protest against a proposed extradition law on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, HONG KONG - JUNE 12: A protester gestures during a protest against a proposed extradition law on June 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Large crowds of protesters gathered in central Hong Kong as the city braced for another mass rally in a show of strength against the government over a divisive plan to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Protesters face off with police during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: A group of protester seen using umbrellas to defend themselves from the pepper spray and tear has from the police. Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/06/12: A group of riot police took back a section of the road near the legislative council complex after clearing the protesters out by using tear gas. Thousands of protesters occupied the roads near the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong to demand to government to withdraw extradition bill. The Hong Kong government has refused to withdraw or delay putting forward the bill after tens of thousands of people marched against it on Sunday. (Photo by Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Police fire tear gas at protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
A policeman shouts at protesters during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters occupy a road as they attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters run after police fired tear gas during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Police fire non-lethal projectiles during violent clashes against protesters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester throws back a tear gas during clashes with police outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Protesters leave the area after police fired tear gas during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester throws back a tear gas during clashes with police outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on June 12 as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters in masks and goggles chant slogans outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Hong Kong authorities delayed the second reading of a controversial bill allowing extradition to mainland China as tens of thousands of protesters blockaded government headquarters. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)
Police rest on a street as protesters (not pictured) attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. - Tens of thousands of protesters paralysed central Hong Kong, blocking major roads in a defiant show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China. By late morning, with crowds continuing to swell, officials in the Legislative Council (Legco) said they would delay the second reading of the bill "to a later date". (Photo by DALE DE LA REY / AFP) (Photo credit should read DALE DE LA REY/AFP/Getty Images)
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‘Hong Kong people are really suffering’

“Hong Kong people are really suffering right now,” web designer and basketball fan James Lo told the Associated Press. “Now you come off a speech like that, we are very angry. People start burning his jersey ... just because of his speech.”

James’ comments echoed a refrain common in NBA circles that appears to prioritize the league’s significant financial interests in China over the human rights issues at stake in Hong Kong and Morey’s ability to speak freely on the subject.

China immediately condemned Morey’s since-deleted Oct. 5 tweet that read “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong” and has since taken steps to limit access to the NBA through state-run media to its 1.4 billion citizens.

NBA’s controversial response

The NBA’s initial response to Morey’s tweet condemned it as “regrettable” in an official league statement. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has since vowed that the league won’t regulate speech as prominent figures such as James, Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry have declined to address the Hong Kong protests directly, claiming they aren’t informed enough on the issue to do so.

James at odds with Hong Kong priorities

James appeared to be speaking about the financial and political backlash against the NBA rather than the larger Hong Kong issue when he spoke Monday about “harm” caused by Morey’s tweet.

“Sometimes you have to think through the things that you say and may cause harm not only for yourself but for the majority of people,” James said. “And I think that’s just a prime example.”

Lo deemed James’ stance unacceptable.

“Students, they come out like every weekend,” Lo said. “They've got tear-gassed and then they got gun shot, like every weekend. Police beating students and then innocent people, like every day. And then he [James] just comes up with something [like] that. We just can't accept that.”

Another protester — 36-year-old office worker William Mok — compared the plight of the people of Hong Kong to a cause commonly supported in NBA circles.

"Please remember, all NBA players, what you said before: 'Black lives matter.' Hong Kong lives also matter.”

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